Court on FSGB tenure denial case: “ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally”

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The 2016 Annual report of the Foreign Service Grievance Board only mentions the Aragon v. Tillerson case in passing as follows:

Daniel P. Aragon, a former Foreign Service career candidate at the Department of State, filed an appeal on January 29, 2016, with the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the Board’s denial of his appeal in FSGB Case No. 2014-034. Mr. Aragon had contested two EERs and the withholding of tenure and involuntary separation that flowed from those EERs.

This case was filed in 2016. Per Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, the Court substituted as defendant the current Secretary of State,Rex Tillerson, for former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has harsh words for the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) on this specific case:

The plaintiff, the Foreign Service, and American taxpayers have invested heavily in the plaintiff’s career as a Foreign Service officer, and the FSGB does a disservice when it renders a decision that ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally the underlying facts to its ultimate conclusion. This is what the FSGB did in finding that the May and November 2013 EERs were not falsely prejudicial. For these reasons, the FSGB’s decision is vacated with respect to its conclusion that these EERs were not falsely prejudicial, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.21

Quick summary of the case:

The plaintiff, Daniel Aragon, served as an entry-level Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State for five years, until he was denied tenure and involuntarily separated in 2014. The reason for the tenure denial arose during the plaintiff’s second overseas assignment, when the plaintiff was responsible for supervising an employee, whose undisputed pattern of insubordination, tardiness, abuse of leave policies and performance issues would, in many work environments, warrant termination of employment. Instead, the plaintiff’s management efforts, which were ultimately successful, to bring this employee into compliance with basic workplace rules, has led to the plaintiff’s own termination from a job he “love[s].” AR at 354.1

The plaintiff filed the instant action against the Secretary of State, in the Secretary’s official capacity, after the State Department denied his grievance contesting the performance evaluations on which the tenure denial was predicated, and the Foreign Service Grievance Board (“FSGB”) upheld the State Department’s decision.2 Alleging that the FSGB’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), the plaintiff seeks, inter alia, an order directing the State Department to remove from his personnel file the two performance evaluations on which the denial of tenure was predicated, Compl., Relief ¶ 3, ECF No. 1; an order rescinding the tenure decisions predicated on those evaluations, id.; an order directing the State Department to reinstate the plaintiff retroactively, with back pay and benefits, id. ¶ 4; and an order directing the State Department to place the plaintiff in the same promotional class he would be in had he received tenure in the winter of 2013, id. ¶ 5. Pending before the Court are the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, see generally Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.’s MSJ”), ECF No. 12, and the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment, see generally Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. (“Defs.’ MSJ”), ECF No. 14. For the reasons set out below, the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, without prejudice, the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied without prejudice, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings.

What the what? Excerpt from court’s opinion:

[T]he record shows that the CPS [cultural program specialist FSN] had an “apparent pattern” of abusing sick leave and would disappear from work for extended periods of time. Id. at 42; see also id. at 335 (describing the manner in which the CPS “took sick leave immediately before or after a block of annual leave[, which] suggest[ed] that she was abusing sick leave in order to augment her annual leave”). This apparently lax office culture was extant before the plaintiff’s arrival, leaving him with the task of changing that culture to ensure that employees, such as the CPS, on the U.S. Government payroll complied with the most basic work performance rules of coming to work on time and providing notice of absences.”

Lip service to evidence

The FSGB paid this evidence lip service in the section of its decision summarizing the plaintiff’s claims, see id. at 405, but the Board did not refer to it, let alone grapple with it, in deciding that the AFI concerning the counseling session was not falsely prejudicial for completely omitting any reference to the events giving rise to the counseling session or the context, in which even before the plaintiff’s arrival, the Dubai office had such deficient management that the CPS was able to develop and engage in a pattern of poor work behavior.

Fails to connect rationally …

That prior agency management in Dubai allowed such poor work habits to persist likely made the plaintiff’s effort to enforce the most basic workplace rules more difficult and makes it all the more impressive that the plaintiff was, apparently, ultimately successful in reining in the CPS’s behavior. See, e.g., AR at 42 (noting that after the plaintiff spoke with the CPS about her “apparent pattern of abusing sick leave, . . . there were no further incidents of suspected leave abuse during the rating period”). As the FSGB itself has noted, a supervisor will “almost inevitabl[y]” have “a difficult relationship” with an employee when the supervisor “is trying to effect changes” in the employee’s behavior. FSGB Op. 2006-052 at 13.

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@StateDept Cites 10 Cases Where Employees Were Placed on Admin Leave, See #10

Posted: 12:41 ET
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3 FAM 3464 defines “Excuse Absence” (commonly known as administrative leave) as absence from duty administratively authorized or approved by the leave-approving officer and does not result in a charge in leave of any kind or in loss of basic salary. 3 FAM 3464.102 also provides for Conduct-Related Excused Absence “Excused absence may be directed in rare circumstances and when authorized as provided by 3 FAH-1 H-3461.2 when an investigation, inquiry, or disciplinary action regarding the employee’s conduct is pending, has been requested, or will be requested within 2 workdays, and the continued presence of the employee in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, or may result in loss of, or damage to, U.S. Government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate U.S. Government interests.”

According to grievance records, during the discovery phase of FSGB No. 2015-029, the State Department provided grievant with a spread sheet identifying 10 cases in which employees were placed on administrative leave pursuant to 3 FAM 3464.1.-2.

Via FSGB:  We quote the stated reasons for the administrative leave as follows (with numbering added):

  • 1) Ongoing investigation. Employee admitted to taking extra passport applications from courier beyond allowed quota. . . . (3 separate cases);
  • 2) Arrest based on violation of protective order;
  • 3) Allegations of misconduct and alcohol consumption while at US Embassy;
  • 4) Employee’s clearance suspended – reasons unknown. Employee failed to meet DS for compelled interview;
  • 5) By letter dated 11/14/13, PSS notified her of suspension of clearance. . . . ;
  • 6) Security Clearance suspended by DS. . . . ;
  • 7) DS investigating employee fraud/impersonating supervisor to obtain federal housing benefits;
  • 8) Arrested on child pornography charges. (no indication employee used USG equipment);
  • 9) Incident resulting in death of Ambassador and others. Admin leave while office evaluates appropriate action (3 separate cases);
  • 10) Employee investigated based on allegations of the rape of 2 women.

Grievant lacks any basis for asserting that the AL granted in these other cases did not serve USG “interests.” Those interests are broad, going far beyond the obvious trauma and safety issues as to other employees. Realistically, all 10 cases (based on the brief descriptions given in the record) invoked some type of governmental interest that was rather self-evident, e.g., stopping an employee from impersonating a supervisor or investigating the actual suspension of someone’s security clearance.21 The bottom line is that the Department’s decisions to grant AL to other persons who were subject to various investigations is not even pertinent to the grievant, [REDACTED].

The FSGB finds that “administrative leave is not an entitlement that would provide the grievant with certain safeguards, but is instead a prerogative administered by management to meet the needs of the Service.”

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Sexual Assault Related posts:

 

Administrative Leave: A Prerogative to Meet the Needs of the Service, Not/Not an Entitlement

Posted: 12:37  pm RT
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Unlike the MSPB, the Foreign Service Grievance Board does not identify its precedential decisions but the case below on administrative leave is worth noting whether this is precedent setting or not. In this case, FSGB says that administrative leave is 1) not an entitlement, 2) that it is a prerogative administered by management to meet the needs of the Service, 3) and that Department was not obligated to provide grievant with an explanation for its decision to deny admin leave.

Via FSGB:

Grievant is a Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent who became involved in an altercation with a local civilian while off duty during a temporary duty (TDY) assignment in Honolulu. This incident resulted in the discharge of his service weapon and the death of the civilian. The State of Hawaii brought criminal charges against grievant, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to represent him, finding that the incident was not the consequence of an official act or performance of his official duties.

For unspecified reasons, the Department placed grievant on administrative leave twice: first, in the aftermath of the shooting, when he was under judicial order not to leave Honolulu, and second, during the pendency of his first trial in 2013 (which resulted in a hung jury). Facing a second trial in 2014, grievant asked the Department to place him on administrative leave again. The Department ultimately denied this latter request and upheld its decision in an agency-level grievance.

Grievant acknowledged that under regulation (3 FAM 3464) the Department has discretionary authority to grant or deny administrative leave. He argued that although the Department is not compelled to grant his request, the weight of both equity and precedent suggest that it should do so. He asserted that the circumstances under which the Department earlier took the initiative to place him on administrative leave are substantially the same as those for which he later requested administrative leave (i.e., for his second trial) and arise from the same incident. He contended that if the Department is to “change” its decision regarding whether to grant him administrative leave, it must provide him an explanation of why it did so.

As the instant appeal does not concern discipline, grievant bears the burden of demonstrating that his grievance is meritorious. We found that grievant had failed to demonstrate that the Department had any obligation to approve his request for administrative leave or that it had violated any law or regulation in not doing so. Finally, we found that the facts of this case do not establish that the Department “changed” its decision; rather, the various decisions it made regarding whether to place grievant on administrative leave were separate, independent decisions. The Board concluded that the Department was not obligated to provide grievant with an explanation for its decision to deny AL. The appeal was denied in its entirety.

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FSGB and MSPB: Majority of the Grievance Cases Do Not Prevail

Posted: 12:21 am ET
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Via State/OIG’s archive: Review of the Department of State Disciplinary Process:

Foreign Service and Civil Service employees have the right to file a grievance to contest the penalty in the letter from the deciding official. Initially, the Grievance Staff reviews grievances for the Department and reexamines all case materials. The Grievance Staff reviews about 130 Foreign Service and 20 Civil Service grievances of all types each year. A deputy assistant secretary for DGHR makes a determination on each grievance. That agency-level decision can be further appealed through separate Foreign Service and Civil Service processes. Under 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 4430, “upon request of the grievant, the agency shall suspend its action” in cases involving suspension, separation, or termination during the review process. This provision applies only to the Foreign Service.
[…]

Foreign Service Appeals Process

A Foreign Service employee may appeal an agency-level decision to the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB), an independent grievance appeals forum established through the Foreign Service Act of 1980. Foreign Service employees facing separation on grounds of misconduct have a right to an automatic hearing before the FSGB. Attorneys or American Foreign Service Association representatives may represent the employee. The FSGB may uphold the agency-level decision, mandate a lesser penalty, or dismiss the case entirely. In 2013, it took an average of 43 weeks for the FSGB to process a case from filing date to final decision.

Foreign Service employees may request and the FSGB may grant “interim relief” (sometimes called “prescriptive relief”) to suspend disciplinary action while an appeal is in process.

The 1995 OIG audit of the FSGB, in addressing the perception that the FSGB routinely overturns the Department’s disciplinary actions, found that “the grievance system is used by a relatively small number of employees, the majority of whom do not prevail.”10 Data from the 2008–2013 FSGB annual reports indicate that this conclusion remains valid. During this 6-year period, the FSGB adjudicated 63 appeals of disciplinary actions. The FSGB partially upheld and partially reversed the Department in 15 cases and fully reversed the Department in only 4 cases. In eight cases, the nature of the FSGB’s decision is not reported in the annual report.

Civil Service Appeals Process

Civil Service employees suspended for more than 14 calendar days or removed or reduced in grade or pay may appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), an independent quasi-judicial agency established in 1979 to protect Civil Service employees. Employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Federation of Federal Employees may file a grievance under the agreement or appeal to the MSPB, but not both. The Civil Service appeals process has no mechanism for interim relief.

MSPB data concerning cases originating in the Department do not disaggregate appeals related to disciplinary matters from appeals of all types. However, relatively few Civil Service cases of all types originating in the Department reach the MSPB. In FY 2012, the MSPB received 29 appeals from Department Civil Service employees: 21 were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or timeliness, and 4 were settled. The MSPB adjudicated only four and upheld the Department in all cases.

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Whoa! What happened to these Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) files? (Updated)

Posted: 3:26 am ET
Updated: 2:53 pm PT (see below)
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An interesting excerpt from an FSGB case:

Grievant “contends that she should not be held to a higher stand (sic) than senior Department officials and a DCM. In two of those cases, very high-ranking officials were found to have been less than candid with the Deputy Secretary of State about their relationships and not to have followed his instructions to “knock it off.””
[…]
FSGB: “However, we find it difficult to conclude that she should be held to a standard higher than that imposed on two of the Department’s most senior managers (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104), who were both charged, unlike grievant, with lack of candor; who failed to heed direct instructions from the Deputy Secretary of State; and whose conduct led to several complaints being lodged with the Director General of the Foreign Service, as well as curtailments from the office in which they worked. Likewise, we do not agree that grievant, an FS-02, should be punished more harshly than the employee charged in FSGB Case No. 2003- 045, who was, at least during part of the conduct at issue, a Deputy Chief of Mission and thus presumably senior to grievant in the instant case, in both rank and responsibility.”

That perked our interest. So we went looking for FSGB cases 2005-103, 2005-104 and FSGB Case No.2003- 045 using the search and browse function at fsgb.gov.  And lo, and behold, all these files (Record of Proceeding) are missing from the FSGB website (the FSGB case is online, but search function failed to locate it, see explanation below).  We’ve asked the FSGB what happened to these files and why they are not online. We will update this post if/when we get a response.

The Deputy Secretary of State in 2005 is either Richard Armitage who served from March 26, 2001 to February 22, 2005 or Robert Zoellick who served from February 22, 2005 to July 7, 2006, both under President George W. Bush. The Director General of the Foreign Service at that time is W. Robert Pearson who served from October 7, 2003 – February 27, 2006.

Update 2:53 pm PT

In response to our query, FSGB said that the first two numbers we cited (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104) are not FSGB numbers but numbers assigned by the State Department to employees who faced some sort of discipline; these discipline cases were later presented to the Foreign Service Grievance Board as comparators.  The FSGB website only includes decisions and orders from the Board. It adds:

“We try to post all our decisions and orders online. Sometimes we learn something was missed due to an administrative error, and then we post it as soon as possible when the problem is brought to our attention. We also are reviewing each year’s cases systematically to ensure there are no gaps. We welcome your bringing to our attention any gaps you identify. Please note, however, that a skipped number does not necessarily mean there is something that we are not posting; it could mean that an appeal was withdrawn very early or consolidated with another appeal and given the other appeal’s number before issuance of a decision.”

As to FSGB Case No. 2003-045, it is online and the Board provided us the link here

 

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Related item:
State-13: Foreign Service Grievance Board Records

 

 

 

Judicial Actions Involving Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) Rulings in 2015

Posted: 12:15 am ET
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Below are three appeals of FSGB decisions that were filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia in 2015 and a few other cases currently pending in court. All extracted from the 2015 FSGB Annual Report:

  • In May, Paul Fritch appealed the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No. 2013-005. The circumstances of that case, as with two other appeals filed by Mr. Fritch with the Board, revolved around his transfer to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for seven years, and reemployment by the Department of State. Mr. Fritch’s district court appeal claims that the Department, affirmed by the Board decision, denied him benefits upon his return to which he was entitled by law, including promotion opportunities, housing expenses, lost contributions to his Thrift Savings Plan account, and position seniority. A decision is pending. (Also see  How many people should be put through a wringer before, oh you know …. and  Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).
  • In November, SharLyn Foo appealed the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No.2014-018, described above under financial cases resolved last year. The Board affirmed the Department’s denial of a waiver of repayment of annuity payments in excess of $300,000 deposited into Foo’s deceased mother’s account over more than a decade. A decision is pending.
  • Also in November, La Rufus Mitchell filed an appeal of the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No. 2014-003. Ms. Mitchell claims that the Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act when it separated her for not having passed the timed running test required for Diplomatic Security Agents. The Board had upheld the Department’s decision. (See the case description under Separation cases, above, for greater detail.) A decision is pending.
  • Appeal to the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSRLB) | In October, the Department of State filed an appeal to the FSRLB of the Board’s decision in the implementation dispute filed by AFSA in FSGB Case No. 2014-028. The FSGB found that the Department had violated negotiated Procedural Precepts when it failed to pay Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs) to members of the Foreign Service in 2013. The Department has alleged that the Board relied on erroneous facts and factual premises not in evidence, and disregarded the express terms of the collective bargaining agreement when it based its decision on past practice. (See Implementation Disputes, above, for greater detail.) Also see Burn Bag: @StateDept announces its disappointment … 👀 OMG! It’s nice to feel valued!

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FSGB 2015 Annual Report: Grievance Processing Reduction — From 41 Weeks to 34 Weeks

Posted: 12:08 am ET
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The Foreign Service Grievance Board has released its 2015 annual report. Excerpts below:

The FSGB, as the primary appeals tribunal for Foreign Service Officers, is in many cases the tribunal of last resort for a wide variety of disputes that arise in the context of employment in the Foreign Service. Although the Board’s decisions may be appealed to the Federal District Courts, such appeals are rare. Therefore, the Board holds sway over decisions that may not only adversely affect Foreign Service careers but that may be fatal to such careers.In its 2015 report, the FSGB says that it has “achieved significant progress in reducing the timelines from the inception of the appeal (or the filing of the grievance with the Board) to the issuance of the final decision. Taking into consideration certain anomalies (cases settled, withdrawn, etc.), the grievance processing time was reduced from an average of 41 weeks in 2014 to 34 weeks in 2015.”
[…]
The Board is constantly mindful that external trends and societal changes that affect the Foreign Service have a bearing on dispute resolution. In that regard, we have encouraged internal discussion and on occasion invited outside experts to make presentations on topics that we consider relevant to the Board’s core functions. For example, this past year the Board held a panel discussion on the impact of social media on diplomacy, including such issues as expectations of privacy and security of communications in a much more active cyber environment. We also invited four distinguished individuals to engage the Board in a wide-ranging discussion on disability and its impact on the Foreign Service. The discussion ranged from a report on what the Department of State is doing to provide accommodations for various employees who are disabled to the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. These issues, along with a myriad of other conditions caused by service in stressful, dangerous and unhealthy posts abroad, have significant impact on behavior and performance and are often addressed by evolving laws and regulations; they are therefore relevant to the overall mission of the Board. My expectation is that the Board will continue to encourage discussion of issues that influence Foreign Service careers, and that will enlarge the Board’s understanding of the growing complexities in the practice of diplomacy and the legal framework that surrounds it.

Some of the notable 2015 FSGB cases:

  • One complex case arose from the circumstances following the September 11, 2012, attack on an American diplomatic post in Benghazi. The reviewing officer of a senior DS Agent was placed on administrative leave during the last four months of the rating period. No communication was allowed between the rated employee and reviewer during that time. Additionally, the rated employee was subsequently responsible for implementing many changes in procedures that had been in place under the reviewer who was placed on leave. The employee assumed that the person acting in the original reviewer’s stead would provide the reviewing statement for his EER. However, the Department determined that his former reviewer would write the reviewing statement, since that officer had not been formally reassigned and was familiar with grievant’s performance during most of the rating period. Grievant claimed that this decision, along with the Department’s decision to assign no reviewer for his subsequent Interim EER, contrary to grievant’s expectations, disadvantaged him in the highly competitive promotion process at the senior levels. The Board found that although the Department had contravened the regulations regarding reviewing officers, grievant, who had been recommended for performance pay, had not demonstrated actionable harm, and the grievance was denied. FSGB Case No. 2015-022. (This case does not appear to be available at fsgb.gov).
  • A second grievance illustrated an issue involving informal counseling that occurs with some frequency in cases that end up at the Board. Grievant, an untenured officer, challenged several EERs and a low ranking on a number of grounds, among them that he had not previously been counseled on deficiencies identified in his EERs. After a thorough review of the record, including contradictory statements by the employee and raters, the Board found that, with one exception, grievant had been counseled, albeit informally, but not in writing on the official counseling form as provided by Department regulations. In accordance with Board precedent, the Board found that such informal counseling was acceptable, although not the best practice. FSGB Case No. 2013-046. (PDF)
  • The appeal with the largest sum at stake was filed by the daughter of a deceased Foreign Service Officer. The Department sought to collect over $300,000 in annuity payments that it had continued to deposit to the account of the deceased’s wife (the grievant’s mother) for over a decade after the mother’s death. The grievant alleged that her mother had told her that the payments would be continued, and that she should use them for the benefit of her minor nephew, whose father had also died. When the Department requested repayment, grievant asked for a waiver. The Department denied the application for waiver on the basis that it (the agency) was prohibited by regulation from waiving repayment of overpayments made to an estate. The Board affirmed the Department’s findings. The grievant has appealed the decision to district court. (See Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings, below.) FSGB Case No. 2014-018. (PDF)
  • In a second, unusual, case, the grievant was a Department employee who had filed the first Foreign Service grievance in 1972. At that time, he was due to be separated as a result of expiration of time in class, and would have received no retirement benefits. The grievant protested that the separation was really due to policy differences with his superiors. During the proceedings, grievant was separated and hired into a Civil Service position. He ultimately won the grievance, but was never reinstated in accordance with the remedies granted. Grievant requested that the Board negotiate a revised annuity based on the original grievance decision. The Board found that the passage of over four decades since the original grievance made the new grievance untimely, and it dismissed the case. FSGB Case No. 2014-042. (Also see FSGB Recognizes Grievant’s “Enduring Dissatisfaction” With @StateDept’s 40 Year Old Grievance Case — Where’s the Medal?)
  • A third case involved both a two-and-a-half-year delay in proposing discipline and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an issue that has arisen with increasing frequency in grievances. The grievant was a DS Agent who allegedly suffered from PTSD following an earlier military deployment to Iraq. The Department charged that grievant failed to inform it about the PTSD during the hiring process, and that he was taking prescription medication without notifying DS as required by the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM). The Board sustained both charges but did not sustain two of the specifications under one of the charges, and remanded to the Department to reconsider the penalty. The delay was not found to have harmed or prejudiced the grievant in this case. FSGB Case No. 2014-020 (PDF).
  • One case involving the appeal of an assignment was closed this year. Grievant had been an FS-02 officer for several years when he was voluntarily separated and transferred to an international organization. He remained at the international organization for seven years, where he held a senior position in his final years. Grievant contested his assignment to an FS-02 position when he returned to State. However, he had also filed a whistleblower reprisal complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) involving the same issues. Grievant withdrew his grievance appeal in order to pursue the OSC complaint. FSGB Case No. 2014-025. (Also see  How many people should be put through a wringer before, oh you know …. and  Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

Some unresolved cases at the end of 2015:

  • Grievant, an untenured DS Agent who spoke fluent Chinese, applied for an upgraded security clearance pursuant to a pending assignment to China. In mid-2013 he was informed that his Top Secret clearance was being suspended based on issues surrounding his personal conduct and his foreign preference and influence. The Department also suspended his law enforcement duties and LEAP, assigning the Agent to unclassified duties. Although the Agent was recommended for tenure the same year, tenure was withheld pending resolution of the security issues, and he was low ranked. Grievant challenges these actions on procedural grounds. FSGB Case No. 2015-034.
  • USAID sought to suspend a Management Officer assigned to a conflict zone for negligent contracting actions that it alleged led to the costly collapse of a roof on a new USAID building. The collapse took place in 2009; discipline was proposed in early 2013. As of mid-2015, the agency had not yet issued a final decision on the discipline; however, it was withholding the grievant’s promotion, recommended in 2013, pending that decision. The grievant challenged the agency’s action as untimely and also claimed as a defense that his alleged negligence was due to his PTSD. The case appeared to be near an agreed resolution last year when a second investigation of the grievant halted negotiations between the parties. FSGB Case No. 2015-020.
  • An employee posted to South America with USAID stopped on his way home by a local bar/grocery store, where, he alleges, his drink was drugged by a young woman who joined him. He claims that he awoke the next morning in a strange place, feeling ill and disoriented, and found that $5,000 had been charged to his debit card. The grievant and his wife state that he continued to hallucinate and be paranoid for two days, supporting their conclusion that he had been drugged. He reported the incident to the RSO and was later recommended for separation for cause based on two charges: 1) Conduct Unbecoming, for having had commercial sex in violation of Department policy; and 2) Dishonesty, for having reported his credit cards stolen, when he still had them in his possession. FSGB Case No. 2015-048.  (This case does not appear to be available at fsgb.gov but a similar case is

    FSGB No. 2012-019 (PDF) which also involves a drugged IMO employee).

IMPLEMENTATION DISPUTES

During the past year the Board resolved two implementation disputes filed by AFSA.

  • The first involved the meaning of language in the 2013 Precepts governing the award of Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs). AFSA and the Department had for many years negotiated the Procedural Precepts concerning MSIs. The Precepts had historically called for awarding MSIs to all employees recommended by the Selection Boards, up to a set percentage of employees in each competitive class. Due to the sequester of funds government-wide in 2013, the negotiated language permitted withholding payment of the MSIs. When the sequester was lifted, the Department nevertheless continued to withhold payment of the awards. AFSA argued that refusal to pay at that point violated the terms of the Precepts to which they had agreed. The Board found in AFSA’s favor, based on the parties’ past practice. The Department has appealed this decision to the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board, which has not yet ruled. FSGB Case No. 2014-028. (PDF)
  • In the second implementation dispute, AFSA alleged that the Department had failed to hold negotiations and/or reach agreement with it on an Embassy London change in practice relating to the deductions Embassy London employees could make from the salaries of their own domestic employees when those employees were given room and board in embassy-provided housing. AFSA contended that the embassy’s unilateral change violated the FAM and the parties’ 1987 Framework Agreement. The Board found that the appeal was filed late and dismissed it for lack of timeliness. FSGB Case No. 2015-005. (PDF).

Read the full report below or read it online via fsgb.gov:

 

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Did USAID/OIG Retaliates Against an Auditor Alleging $120 Million Waste?

Posted: 12:18  am ET
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The Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) wants to know.

In December, it granted the unnamed auditor’s (the charged employee) Motion for Additional Discovery. USAID/OIG was ordered to produce the investigation files of both Mr. REDACTED and Ms. Lisa Mcclendon, the Deputy Assistant IG for Investigations at USAID OIG. Below is a quick summary of this case extracted from the publicly available records of the FSGB:

REDACTED, was employed by the United States Agency for International Development in the Office of the Inspector General (USAID OIG, agency) as a financial auditor in REDACTED from 2009 to 2011. During that time, she was assigned, inter alia, to audit two USAID programs (a REDACTED HIV/AIDs program in 2010 and a REDACTED Family Planning/Contraceptives program in 2011). The charged employee stated that she was prepared to make negative findings about both programs, alleging a waste of $120 million and $100 thousand dollars in each program, respectively. The OIG responded that the employee’s audit manager,REDACTED, and the Regional Inspector General, REDACTED, overruled her negative findings on grounds that they were erroneous and/or did not need to be included in the audit reports.

On June 9, 2011, an anonymous or confidential complaint was delivered to the REDACTED USAID OIG office, stating that the charged employee was submitting partially false vouchers for two-way education transportation reimbursement, because her husband was driving the children to school in the mornings. REDACTED, an investigator in REDACTED received the complaint and after consulting with an Assistant Special Agent in Charge in Washington, D.C., REDACTED, arranged for a Regional Security Officer (RSO) to follow Mr. REDACTED in the mornings to confirm that he was driving the children to school. The investigator also requested copies of the education transportation vouchers that showed that Ms. REDACTED had requested reimbursement for the cost of transporting the children to and from school.

Several weeks later, Lisa McClennon, the Deputy Assistant IG for Investigations, traveled to REDACTED allegedly for a routine site visit. When she arrived and reviewed the pending investigations, she testified that she concluded that REDACTED investigation “had not progressed.”2 She took over the investigation, interviewed more than a dozen witnesses and requested a large number of financial documents that Ms. REDACTED had submitted for reimbursement. Ms. McClennon stated that when she reviewed the documents and interviewed the witnesses, she concluded that the employee had submitted a number of false vouchers for reimbursement of educational travel expenses, a number of requests for cost of living allowance (COLA) payments to which she was allegedly not entitled, and a request for larger housing to which she was also allegedly not entitled.

(Note: WHOA! — requesting larger housing is against the rules? Isn’t that for the Housing Board to decide on entitlement? Active link and emphasis added above).

Ms. McClennon reported her findings to Mr. Carroll in Washington. He ordered Ms. REDACTED immediate curtailment, despite the fact that at that time she was away from post with her family. In addition, Mr. Carroll proposed to separate Ms. REDACTED from the Service for cause. After reviewing written and oral replies from the charged employee, Mr. Carroll recommended in a letter, dated August 3, 2012, that the employee be separated for cause.3  Ms. REDACTED responded to the recommendation by arguing that the investigation and the resultant charges were retaliatory based on her status as a whistleblower when she attempted to report negative findings in the REDACTED and REDACTED audits.
[…]
Before the Board was able to issue a final order,5 however, the employee filed a motion on November 14, 2014, advising the Board that Mr. Carroll had withdrawn his name from consideration for the position of IG and the President had formally withdrawn his name from consideration by Congress on November 12, 2014.6 The motion sought leave to file a supplemental pleading and to reopen discovery based on newspaper articles that reported that  Mr. Carroll was accused by OIG auditors (not including Ms. REDACTED of putting pressure on them to modify audit reports in order to delete negative findings about USAID. In addition, the charged employee requested the opportunity to depose Mssrs.REDACTED  and REDACTED.

The footnotes:

  • The Board initially came to the conclusion that Mr. Carroll did not have authority to prosecute this matter because his term as Acting IG expired before he recommended Ms. REDACTED for separation. The case was then dismissed. However, in 2013, Mr. Carroll was nominated to be the IG for USAID. Thus, he again became the Acting IG, pursuant to the Federal Vacancy Reform Act (FVRA) of 1998, 5 U.S.C. § 3345 et seq. As Acting IG, Mr. Carroll ratified his earlier recommendation to separate Ms. REDACTED for cause and the grievance appeal was reinstated.

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Burn Bag: @StateDept announces its disappointment … 👀 OMG! It’s nice to feel valued!

 

Via Burn Bag:

[Last week] we got the word that the Department will have to pay out on the 2013 MSIs.  They lost once, appealed and the review board denied the appeal.

Unbelievably, they added this line to the cable “The Department is disappointed by the  [review board] decision.”

It’s nice to feel valued.

via reactiongifs.com

via reactiongifs.com

To read more about the implementation disputes governing the award of the 2013 Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs), check the files below. The Foreign Service Grievance Board found in AFSA’s favor last year. The Department appealed this decision to the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FLRA), which rendered its decision on April 20, 2016, see below:

 

Related files

  • AFSA v. State Department – Decision FSGB No. 2014-028  (PDF)
  • AFSA v. State Department – Timeliness FSGB No. 2015-006 (PDF)
  • AFSA v. State Department – Timeliness FSGB No. 2015-005 (PDF)

 

 

How many people should be put through a wringer before, oh you know ….

Posted: 3:48 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

We’ve previously blogged about Foreign Service assignments to international organizations. FSOs who take up assignments in some of these organizations are excluded from promotion consideration in the Foreign Service (see Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

We’ve been able to locate the FSGB case here (PDF), and the appeal case here (PDF).

Grievant filed his initial grievance with the Department on August 7, 2012,1 claiming that he was improperly excluded from promotion consideration by the 2008-2012 Selection Boards, during which time he was encumbering a position at the REDACTED. His assignment to REDACTED was effected by separation/transfer (“secondment,” according to Department usage) in the spring of 2007, and he exercised re-employment rights to return to agency rolls in 2012. Grievant claimed he believed he would remain eligible for promotion consideration during the REDACTED assignment, based on information contained in the Information Sheet that accompanied his Separation Agreement and on alleged assurances he received from Department Human Resources (HR) personnel. He claimed that shortly after he took the REDACTED assignment, he became aware that the Promotion Precepts exclude from review employees who have been separated/transferred to international organizations. Nonetheless, he claimed that the official notification of his assignment (SF-50 Personnel Action) assigned him to a status (the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai (MFO)) that specifically permits officers so assigned to remain eligible for promotion  consideration. He argued that instead of using the separation/transfer mechanism, the Department should have detailed him to REDACTED leaving him on Department rolls and eligible for promotion consideration during the assignment. Grievant argued that Department errors in documentation of his assignment, and its different explanations of its own regulations, amount to bad faith on the part of the Department.

The Department acknowledged inaccuracies in the original Department documentation and in its decision on grievant’s appeal, in which it claimed that grievant’s separation/transfer instead of a detail was “standard protocol” for cases such as grievant’s. […] Notwithstanding the inaccuracies in documentation, the Department argued that separating/transferring grievant to the was not a clear violation of agency policy in effect at the time, and there was no impediment to taking that action.[…] The agency argued, therefore, that its actions were not contrary to law, regulation or collective bargaining agreement, and that neither the SF-50 errors, nor the errors contained in the Information Sheet, alter grievant’s status. Finally, the agency claimed it is an established fact that grievant did not serve in the Sinai in the MFO, and he is not entitled to benefits afforded to officers who serve there.

The FSGB ruled that “Regardless of the reason(s) why an “incorrect” SF-50 was issued in the first place, the preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that the only SF-50 in the record was issued containing several errors, not the least of which is that grievant was assigned to the MFO in the Sinai – where we know he did not serve. We fail to see the manifest injustice based on grievant’s arguments in this respect that would constitute grounds for reconsideration of our March 19, 2014, decision.”

We understand that this grievant was actually assigned to OSCE but his SF-50 says he was assigned to MFO. No, the grievant did not prepare his own SF-50, silly :-).  Wondering why the SF-50 says MFO, and was never corrected. Was it intended as a work-around? If not, why was it never corrected the entire time the FSO was on assignment at an organization that was obviously not the MFO in the Sinai?

Standard Form 50, is the official form the government uses to calculate your retirement. Your SF-50s determine your retirement eligibility, your federal pension, and in this case, it also impacts promotion eligibility.

In any case, this is an expanding case not just in the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB), but also with the  Office of Special Counsel and now in federal court.

The individual would not discuss his ongoing court case but here is what we got:

“I decided to raise this issue with the new AFSA Board, which came into office with much fanfare as the “Strong Diplomacy” slate. After more than a month of non-response, I finally received the following this morning from an AFSA Board member:

“With limited resources, AFSA is unable to pursue each and every dispute with management and must focus on those issues that have the greatest impact on our membership and most benefit the Foreign Service as a whole. I understand you have already pursued this issue with private counsel through the grievance process. Given other competing priorities, this is not an issue AFSA is going to pursue with management.”

In other words, although AFSA is aware of an ongoing and systematic violation of federal law on the part of Department management, it is choosing not to pursue the issue with management due to more pressing priorities, thus leaving dues-paying members to fend for themselves in the courts, at their own expense.”

It’s worth noting that the promotion precepts are negotiated and agreed annually between the State Department and AFSA. We’re not sure what to make of this. If an employee is not able to rely on its union for disputes like this, who can he/she rely on? Is there a threshold on how many people should be put through the wringer before AFSA takes it up with management?

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